August 15, 2016

Julia Child's advice to speakers



“This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook – try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!” ~ Julia Child
Okay, so maybe she wasn't referring to speakers, but who can argue that her advice surpasses cooking and crosses over into many other areas?

As a speaker, if you're willing to try new things, learn from your mistakes, be fearless and have fun, well, you're ahead of the game already.

Happy birthday, Julia Child!

A couple of shots from my visit to Julia Child's kitchen at the Smithsonian! Lots of reflection because it's all behind glass.

August 10, 2016

Do your audience's filters override your message?




It's a story about a fig. It's a very simple story. This fig is HUGE.

I posted this picture on Facebook of the fig filling the palm of my hand. I thought the fig would speak for itself. But I was wrong.

I started getting comments like, "Can't get them here!" and "My mom loved figs, she had a fig tree." Someone said, "I used to love figs, still love fig Newtons cookies. My grandmother had a fig tree." And "Yum!!! Really miss that wonderful Cali produce!!!!"

And not one person mentioned the size of the fig.

Okay, if I had known this was going to turn out to be such an interesting experiment, I wouldn't have captioned the picture "Anyone want a fig?" I would have left it blank. But I didn't know it was going to be such a great experiment - and a perfect analogy for public speaking.

Here's the thing: Your audience is ALWAYS going to interpret your stories and your message through their own filters, their own background, and their own lifetime of knowledge and experience. When I see a meatloaf, I can't help but think about the meatloaves my mom used to make (with whole hard-boiled eggs inside!), and when someone sees a fig, they can't help but think of their relationship to figs.

If my message is clear - "Can you believe the size of this fig?" - then I'm more likely to get responses to the size of the fig. People will still filter the picture and the message through their own experiences, but they will also understand that my message is "Hey, this fig is huge!" And then their responses will be more like "I've never seen a fig that big," or "Is that closer to an apple or a peach in size?" Even those whose filters bring up grandma's fig tree might say, "My grandma had a fig tree, but I never saw one this big." The responses will now be in the same context as my message was intended.

But if my message is NOT clear, then they will come up with their own messages and stories about the fig, and those messages and stories will have nothing to do with what I intended.

This is what happens in your presentations when you're not crystal clear on your core message, your key points, how your examples and stories tie into your message, what's relevant to your audience, and what results you're hoping to achieve.

Your audience is already interpreting your message through their multiple filters. Being vague and scattered only makes it easier for them to get lost in their own heads rather than taking away the message you intend for them.

Now how about the size of that fig?

July 28, 2016

You're not just competing with other speakers



In the entrepreneurial world, and especially in the speaking and coaching worlds, we like to say "There is no competition." You see, we all have something unique to offer, we each have a unique voice and message, and no one else can do what we do in exactly the same way we do it. And this is true. But...

When you're speaking at a conference, you actually do have competition. Conference attendees will choose which breakout sessions to attend based on the description of your workshop and their needs and goals. Sometimes you know in advance how many people will attend your session, because pre-registration is required. And sometimes, attendees make up their minds at the last minute, because they don't have to pre-register, meaning that you have no idea who will attend your session.

On Monday, I attended a breakout at the National Speakers Association convention that seemed like a good fit for me. The topic seemed interesting, and I thought it might take me in a new direction in my business. But I was wrong. The workshop description wasn't really accurate, and after about 30 minutes, I realized I wasn't going to get what I needed from the session. So I left.

But here's the thing: I didn't go to another session. By that point, all of the other sessions were halfway over. So I sat in the main convention gathering area, the "hallway," if you will, and looked for people to talk to.

Over the course of the four-day convention, I actually attended very few sessions. I've paid for the recordings, and when they arrive, I'll go through and listen to the most intriguing sessions that I missed. Guess what I was doing instead of attending sessions: I was growing my business through hallway conversations.

What speakers don't realize in conference settings is that the attendees are not just choosing between sessions. They are choosing between sessions and conversations. While I was missing sessions, I was connecting, learning and building my business.

Hallway conversations are a powerful - and not to be overlooked - part of conferences that are equally compelling to many attendees as your breakout session.

When you create your session description, make sure to consider that you are not just looking to attract people to your session over the other sessions, but that you are also looking to attract people to a session AT ALL. 

If hallway conversations are more attractive than what you're offering - whether because you haven't properly tailored your content to the group, or you haven't described it well, or you do a poor job of delivering your message or engaging the audience during the session - you will lose potential and actual audience members to the hallway.

The competition isn't what you think it is. Prepare accordingly.

July 8, 2016

I did everything wrong



I'm a veteran speaker and trainer. My own experience of almost 25 years of speaking, teaching and training, plus my background in theater, my M.A. in Education, and my ongoing study and practice of the subject of public speaking are what I base my training and coaching on, and I consider myself an expert and an authority.

So how is it possible that I made such a huge rookie mistake, just three days ago?

Here's how it went down - how I sabotaged myself from day one.

A friend had a business trip she couldn't get out of, and her UCSB Extension class was going to be without a teacher. So she asked me if I could come in and be a guest speaker, since her students will be giving several presentations over the course of the program.

First mistake: I agreed to present in her two classes - with ten days notice.

I usually ask for a month lead time before presentations, because it's important for me to prepare properly - and I do have other work to complete during that time. It's not like I take a whole entire month to prepare, but snippets of time in between clients and my own programs and admin work.

But I like to help out my friends, and I thought, "No big deal. I can just do one of the presentations I do all the time, and it'll take no time to get ready."

Second mistake: Thinking I could just use one of my presentations I do all the time.

This was a completely different audience - high school students who are prepping for college by participating in this summer program. As I began to look at my content, I realized that my Speak to Engage presentation is too business-oriented. But the other one that might have worked, my Learn to Love Speaking presentation, was out of date, too rudimentary, and didn't include enough engagement concepts. And the presentations I usually give to high school or middle school students, didn't have enough presentation concepts, only confidence-building.

So I found myself, with a day or two before the presentation, creating a hybrid of presentations - a presentation I have never given, nor practiced.

Third mistake: Not giving myself time to practice.

New presentation, no time to practice, I just imagined that I would rely on my experience. I know how much time it generally takes to get through 60-75 image-based slides, and this was a 90-minute presentation. No sweat.

Fourth mistake: Expecting technology to work at the last minute.

The morning of the presentation, I tried to export my PowerPoint into Word for my notes. I do this with every presentation; my notes consist of the sentence at the top of each slide, with a comment or two below to remind me what I want to talk about or which activity I want to do. Kind of a bulleted list of the slides. I do this more to stay on time than to give me my content, which is all in my head.

Well, for some reason, only a portion of the slide headings would export into Word. No matter what I tried, I could only get about half of the slide headings to show up, meaning that there were going to be NO NOTES.

As I said, the content is in my head, but the notes show me, visually, how much content I still have ahead of me, so I can adjust my timing.

Why was I just printing out my notes the morning of the presentation? Because I was overconfident. There, I said it. Overconfident, complacent, all those things that happen to us when we have a lot of experience and think we can get away with winging it.

So I showed up with no notes.

What was the result of all of my mistakes coming together that morning?

I ran out of time. A lot of time.

At the end of the 90 minutes, I still had ten slides to go (for me, that's about 10-15 minutes of content). I had to let the students go without having finished the presentation.

To me, this is a cardinal sin of presenting. The presentation was good. The students were engaged, and I had no trouble integrating the hybrid concepts together. But running out of time means I literally left them without an entire section of material and my closing.

Feeling like a total idiot, I headed home to prepare for the second presentation.

I removed a couple of slides that felt redundant, and went over a couple of areas where I felt I had probably gone on too long or had too much discussion.

When I returned for the second class, I nailed it. The entire presentation, with interaction and activities, with Q&A, fit perfectly into 90 minutes. This is the benefit of experience, that I could fix the presentation after one delivery, trim my stories and discussion, and make it work the second time.

But to me, that's not good enough. I still had one classroom of students who had been shortchanged.

What are the lessons from this experience?

1. Never, EVER assume that things will go as planned with too-short notice.

2. Never, EVER assume that, because you've done this a million times, you can blow off proper preparation and expect to do your best.

3. Never, EVER assume that you are such a pro that you won't do something stupid and careless and disappoint your audience (actually, I don't know if they were disappointed, but they should be).

On the positive side (because you know me, and there's always a silver lining)...

1. I did have a chance to redeem myself with the second group, and I was able to figure out how to fix the problems in time for the second presentation. Experience does play a part in situations like this, both good and bad.

2. I realized that this hybrid presentation might be perfect for a group that I'm considering working with in the next month or so. I now have a whole new offering that I wouldn't have had if I hadn't been asked to speak in these classes.

I feel that part of my job as a coach and trainer is to be totally transparent, and let you see what really goes on in the world of professional speaking. I'm not perfect, and neither are you. But if we work hard to integrate what we learn from our mistakes, we will - at least - make these mistakes less often than the rookies. And when we do make rookie mistakes, we can clean them up faster.

I'd love to hear about a rookie mistake you made that you shouldn't have made because of your vast experience. Please share in the comments!

And for more speaker/trainer transparency: 

My friend Gloria Miele, another experienced speaker and trainer, was having some confidence issues on the other end of the spectrum. Check out her post about what to do when self-doubt rears its head. 


When Self-Doubt Sneaks Up on You

July 4, 2016

3 Ways To Listen To Your Inner Voice For A Happy And Successful Life - Guest Post by Debbie Lyn Toomey



Have you ever woken up to a voice that came from nowhere?

It has happened to me many times. In fact, it has gotten to a point that when I do hear it, I know enough not to complain but rather listen when it wakes me up in the middle of the night. No, I’m not crazy. I’m a believer. That’s right. I’ve become a faithful student of this all-knowing voice, my intuition. What I found when I stopped arguing with it is that the guidance it gives me always leads me onto my highest and best path.

A Voice

I recall being woken up by a Voice that seemed to have come from nowhere. Half asleep, I thought I was dreaming. When I turned over to my side to try to switch the channel of this bad dream, the voice repeated. Again it said, “Do stress management workshops.” This happened for a few weeks. When I stopped resisting it and started listening to it, my life became happier and more successful.

Do Stress Management Workshops

After a few weeks of being woken up with the same instructions to “Do stress management workshops,” I went from saying, “No” to the Voice to “How?”

Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve always loved making people feel good and the idea of teaching. This passion led me to becoming a nurse. As a nurse in the Boston area, I was able to help many people feel better. But after taking care of hundreds of patients with stress-related ailments, I knew that health prevention was important. I believed that it was integral in helping people feel better, but the only way to do that was through doing workshops in the community. This passion seemed to make sense, but I felt it was too farfetched for someone as introverted and afraid of public speaking as me.

My long list of reasons why I couldn’t achieve this aspect of my dream triumphed until the voice started waking me up in the morning.

Why Me?

I remember mornings when I would hear “Do stress management workshops” from the Voice, and I would try to silence it by putting my pillow over my head. Not surprisingly the pillow did not offer any sort of a sound barrier. Eventually, I stopped saying, “No, I don’t know how” or “Why me?” and started saying “How can I do it?” and “Where can I do it?” Although my heart somehow knew to trust this inner voice, my insecure mind wanted to challenge it.

I Started to Believe

I would start testing the Voice by asking questions of how I can make this come true. Every time I would ask one, it would give me a simple answer. I started to believe it. Despite my nervousness about the whole idea, I knew that it was going to happen. Further, the more I believed, the more I really wanted it to happen.

My Answers

When I asked The Voice who I should contact and where can I offer the stress management workshops, it gave me the answers. At first, I could not believe it when it would answer me, but eventually, I got used to it. The Voice said, ask “Father O’Brien.” Also it said, “the convent” for the location. Coincidentally, at that time, the church was looking for a nurse practitioner to volunteer to take people’s blood pressure. I thought I could offer my workshop along with taking other parishioners’ blood pressure as a way to do my workshop as well as build engagement in the church.

I told myself that if Father O’Brien declined my offer then I would be done with trying to do any stress management workshops. Later that day, I hung up the phone in disbelief that Father O’Brien said yes, and I was on my way to start realizing my dream.

Today’s Workshops

To this day, I smile when I think about what happened and how it has led me to where I am now. Presently, I am the owner of Ultimate Healing Journey, a company that I founded almost 5 years ago that specializes in offering “happiness management” workshops.

Instead of the stress management workshops that focuses on how negativity impacts our health and performance, my company focuses on the positive. My company purposely applies happiness skills to boost positivity. Positivity has been proven to enhance peak performance and productivity. I love what I do and I am so grateful that I followed the guidance that The Voice gave me.

Trusted My Intuition

So how did I change from a “Nervous Nelly” of a nurse who was afraid of speaking in front of large groups to a happy-go-lucky international speaker? Well, I remained true to my heart’s desire and trusted The Voice inside of me—my intuition. Although it took me years to be a speaker, author, coach, and facilitator, I believe that it all stemmed from my willingness to follow my dream and listen to my inner voice. My intuition is The Voice.

As I wrote in my new book, The Happiness Result, “your inner GPS will always steer you towards your own North Star.” This book combines self-help, with science, and the power of intuition to inspire today’s busy people with ways to create the life of their dreams.

How About You?

Do you have a dream that you would like to come to fruition and just don’t know where to begin? I suggest you begin with following your own intuition. The Voice, your intuition, will steer you on your own magical path. If you have not had any experience with being woken up by The Voice, you can still follow your own North Star by tuning into the your still small voice from within.

Here are 3 ways to get started.

1. Trust - Have faith that you have The Voice inside you.
2. Exercise - Build your intuitive muscle by talking to it, testing it, and tuning into its answers.
3. Love - Trust that your intuition is love-based. It speaks the language of your heart’s desires.

Try following these 3 techniques to help learn how to trust and follow you own inner voice. The more you do it the more natural it will become.

To learn more about how follow your heart’s desire and cultivate your inner voice visit www.TheHappinessResult.com today to preorder your copy of The Happiness Result: More time, More health, More love, More success. 7 Simple Techniques to Create Your A.W.E.S.O.M.E.™ Life today.

Follow Debbie Lyn Toomey on Twitter: www.twitter.com/UHJDebbieLyn

May 24, 2016

"Soulless perfection" is the wrong goal



Anyone who watched the final season of American Idol will recall Dalton Rapattoni, the blue-eyed, blond-haired, baby-faced, guy-liner-wearing rocker who took third place in the show's final competition.

Dalton was memorable for his unconventional delivery of surprising song choices, like show tunes "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Hopelessly Devoted to You," which he performed in his own unique style. In fact, the judges came up with a new word for Dalton's take on each week's song: "Daltonized."

Here's the thing about Dalton, and about many of Idol's top contestants over the 15-year run of the show: He was imperfect.

Sure, he's cute, and he's got a great look for the stage. But he didn't have the chops of season 15 top two performers La'Porsha Renae or Trent Harmon. Not even close. And as Simon Cowell used to remind us (frequently), "This is a singing competition."

But no, singing ability was not the top concern of the judges or the millions of fans who voted each week.

Guess what people were voting on (besides the singing): Connection.

Ah yes, there it is again. But what Dalton and others demonstrated was that a performer who doesn't necessarily have the best skills can overcome those limitations with personality and connection.

As Keith Urban said after one of Dalton's performances: "I'd always take an inspired attempt over soulless perfection any day of the week."

What are your limitations as a speaker?

You're not as funny as the next guy? Your stories could use some work? Your knowledge still has some holes? You're still gaining experience and don't come across as polished as some others who've been in the trenches longer?

These things are all fixable. You have plenty of time to grow and improve as a speaker. Keep working, keep reaching, keep blossoming.

And in the meantime, your #1 goal is to be real, to be 100% YOU, and to connect with the audience in your own genuine style, with your own genuine personality.

There's not one speaker, singer, musician, politician or performer who benefits from exhibiting "soulless perfection." And your audience certainly doesn't benefit. Nor will they respond emotionally to your robotic flawlessness.

But an "inspired attempt?" Yes! Let's all seek to be inspired when we perform, and to inspire our audiences to take action in the process, by being true to who we are and fully embracing that person.

P.S. I'm a little sad to realize that this is probably my last ever American Idol-inspired post. AI has been a great inspiration to me over the years, providing numerous examples for connecting speakers with principles of performance. Thanks to all the judges and performers for showing us what works and what doesn't (and what REALLY doesn't) on stage, and how to emotionally engage our audiences.

May 10, 2016

Will the timing ever be right?



How many times have you waited to start something until the timing has been "right?"

How did that go? Did you ever start? Did you wait so long that the opportunity was no longer available? Did you wait so long that you lost your chance?

The last three times I signed up for coaching programs, the timing wasn't right. I mean, literally, I signed up late for all three.

One program was starting just as I was coming into the home stretch of planning and delivering my retreat. There was no way I could commit to one more thing on my plate. But I knew this program was going to create some huge shifts for me, and I really wanted to join, and that coach very generously let me put it off for several weeks.

The program before that one, I was expecting a corporate training payment that would cover the cost of the program, but it wasn't going to arrive until the week after the program started. That coach also was very flexible and let me start late, especially since everything was recorded, and I wouldn't actually miss anything.

And the program before that one, I was just about to start delivering my 7-week virtual program, and I was waiting for a couple of participants to sign up in order to make the payment (do you see a theme here?). That coach allowed me the extra week to sign up as well.

All three of these programs have turned out to be critical to the development of my business, and without them, I would still be struggling to figure out who I am as a coach and speaker, how to brand and market myself (well, let's be honest... that's an ongoing process), and how to create and promote my programs, build my mailing list, and attract clients.

Those three coaches didn't judge me or make me feel bad for not being ready at "the right time." They so graciously allowed me the time I needed, and I'm incredibly grateful to them.

Now I want to pay it forward. 

Speak to Engage Mentoring and Mastery started on April 19. Our first live call was recorded, and the resources and materials for the program are still in the process of being added to our private web page. Our first recorded training will be delivered this week.

And I'm holding one spot open for that one person who's been wanting to join but the "timing wasn't right." Are you the one?

I'm going to hold this spot for you for one more week, until next Tuesday, the date of our second live call. (The payment plan is still available.)

I know how it feels to want to join a program so badly, but to be held up by finances, or by timing, or by some other obstruction.

I also know how it feels to make it happen. To suck it up, ask for the extension, join the program late and gain all the benefit!

So I'll ask again: Are you the one?

We're waiting for you. :-)
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